A new species of beaked whale is awaiting to be officially named after scientists confirmed its existence. The existence of the whale, which has a bulbous head and a prominent beak, has previously been reported by Japanese fishermen working in the northern Pacific Ocean, who refer to the species as "karasu", meaning raven.
The new species was officially confirmed in a paper authored by research scientists working for the American National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which was published in the Marine Mammal Science journal last week.
"Clearly, this species is very rare and reminds us how much we have to learn about the ocean and even some of its largest inhabitants," Phillip Morin, a research molecular biologist at the NOAA, said.
"There have been a lot of people out there surveying whales for a long time and never come across this in scientific research," Morin told American media. "So it is a huge thing to discover this; it's kind of baffling that we haven't seen it before."
The discovery followed in the footsteps of a paper published by Japanese scientists in 2013, which argued that three whale specimens which had washed ashore in their homeland could be members of a hitherto unknown species, but said that more research would be needed to widen the sample size and known for sure. At that time, only two species of beaked whales – the genus Berardius – were known, dubbed Baird's and Arnoux's beaked whales.
Morin and his team then went about the lengthy process of finding and categorising samples from 178 specimens found around the Pacific Rim. Of these, the team decided that eight actually belonged to the proposed new species. They found samples in strange places − one a skeleton on display at an Alaskan high school, while another had washed up on an Island in the Baring Sea.
"It's a really big deal," the study's co-author Paul Wade told National Geographic. "If you think about it, on land, discovery of new species of large mammals is exceptionally rare. It just doesn't happen very often. It's quite remarkable."
Not much else is known about the species, which Japanese scientists are in the process of formally describing. It will get a common name, a Latin name, and have the features that distinguish it from other species defined.
"We don't know how many there are, where they're typically found, anything," said Morin. "But we're going to start looking."